River Canoe Marathon Media Release
15 June 2021
: Dave Macleod
History beckons as Giel van Deventer eyes a 50th
Berg River Canoe Marathon medal
Paarl – Giel van Deventer will be looking to become the first
person to complete the Berg River Canoe Marathon fifty times
when he sets off at the start of the sixtieth edition of the
four-day race on Wednesday 7 July.
Van Deventer’s journey to 49 Berg medals includes many indelible
memories, but it took him three years to do his first Berg.
“I entered my first Berg in 1967 but unfortunately I played
rugby for the first team at school and we were challenged by the
champion Transvaal team and the match clashed with my first
Berg," Van Deventer said. "I chose the rugby match, which we
won, but I missed my first Berg.
"The next year I entered again for my first Berg but I was doing
my National Service year in the Navy and the ship I was
stationed on went on manoeuvres during the Berg week and our
leave was cancelled and I again missed it again.
"So my real first Berg happened to be during my first year as a
19 year old Stellenbosch student in 1969.”
The Berg is known as one of the toughest paddling challenges in
South Africa with flat water, tough Western Cape winter weather
and the sheer distance of the race providing a number of
For the 71 year-old there are a few races that stand out over
the past nearly five decades, and the infamous 1971 second stage
that was battered by north-westerly gale force winds and rain
still stands out.
"The wind was so strong that we could not pick up your boat to
carry it to the start because if you tried to pick it up you got
"We had to drag our boats to the start. That day only 45% of the
starters made it to the finishing line. That makes it probably
the toughest day in the history of South African canoe races if
55% of the starters did not finish.
"The second most memorable year was 1987 when I got a hernia
injury four days before the Marathon.
"I could only paddle in soft paddle strokes because if I pulled
hard on the paddle the hernia popped out and that was an
immensely painful process to push the popped-out intestines
"Slowly I managed to get to the finish on the first three days
but then we faced one of those typical north-western wind storms
on the fourth day.
"You could not paddle softly against this howling storm because
you would not make any progress. But the hard paddling strokes
made the hernia pop out several times. Never in my life did I go
through so much pain in one day but I made it and that is what
With the 2020 edition of the race being cancelled due to the
Covid-19 pandemic, Van Deventer had to wait an extra year before
his fiftieth attempt. The drive to complete a fiftieth has been
quite simple for the legend.
"We used to have a system in Western Province where you could
upgrade your racing number to a smaller and more prestigious
"The numbers consisted out of one, two or three digit numbers
with the smallest number being number one.
"Canoeing South Africa nationalised the whole country’s
numbering system and all paddlers got four digit numbers with
Western Province getting all the 5000’s with number one in the
province changing to 5001 on CSA registration and number two
changed to 5002.
"Nobody got number 5000 and the question was who should get it
on what criteria? Then WCCU Exco decided that the first paddler
who completes 50 Bergs can get number 5000.
"That is when the first seed for a possible 50th Berg was
planted. Since then it was a long and hard but pleasant journey
to get there."
Heading into the 2021 edition of the Berg, Van Deventer uses the
race as an important gauge of his overall health.
"When I was paddling my 40th Berg Bruce Clarke came passed me
and asked why do you do this every year? My answer was it is my
annual medical check-up. If I can still conquer a Berg then I
know my body is still OK.
"But it is about the camaraderie. Seing old friends again on the
river, telling the war stories around the evening camping fires
but most of all it is about that precious Berg Marathon medal.
"It is a medal for which you really have to work very hard," he
More information can be found at
Social media : #Berg2021 #60thBerg
(click to download
Click HERE to download
Canoe Marathon logo - square on white - JPeg
square on transparent background - PNG
Giel van Deventer is
aiming to become the first person to complete 50 Bergs at
the 2021 Berg River Canoe Marathon from 7 to 10 July.
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